Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Perito Moreno Glacier

The Perito Moreno Glacier in Parque Nacional de los Glaciares in Southern Argentina, was one of the reasons we decided to make the trip to Patagonia. It was as awe inspiring as expected. Just its sheer size is enough to impress. It is 5 km wide and 60 metres tall at its face.

The best part, however is listening to the glacier moan from pressure, and watch as it calves large chunks of ice from its face. The moreno glacier exhibits these traits because it is growing; one of the only glaciers in the world which is. Actually, on the way to Easter Island Leanna and I watched the Al Gore documentary about global warming which featured the glacier. It was very well done, but unfortunately used a video of the glacier calving to illustrate how glaciers are receding all over the world. Calving glacier means expansion Al!

The colors of the ice are spectacular, changing from a deep blue to brilliant white depending on the weather conditions and the density of ice. I had to include this picture, which looks like we`ve taken a picture in the dark with the glacier lit up, but is actually just the brilliance of the glacier causing a whiteout in the camera.

Thursday, December 14, 2006


Hi Everybody,
We are currently in Puerto Natales, Chile, but leaving today for El Calafate in Argentina. Patgonia is beautiful. Cold, and windy but beautiful. The pictures I have here really don't do justice to the variety in the landscape, the colors of the tough, ground hugging plants that survive in these harsh conditions, and the commanding presence of the rock formations that interrupt the long strethes of flat prairie.

We took a tour yesterday to a national park, Torres del Paine. Along the sheep studded hillsides we saw rheas, condors and guanacos, passed through glacier carved valleys, and marvelled at the sheer expanse of the wind-whipped Patagonian steppe.
Unfortunately, our ride out to the park was a little too exciting for our taste. We got into an accident. It wasn't serious, but it could have been. The driver was going too fast along a road under construction and hit the cement base of a pylon which burst one of the front tires. The van then pulled sharply to the right, off the road and bounced off of a steep bank of a hillside which sent us the other way, over the foot high lip of the road under construction, bursting the other front tire. We swerved back and forth until the driver managed to stop. I thought for sure we were going to roll, which would have been very bad since the other side of the road went right into a lake. The van also didn't have any seatbelts so we went for a wild ride inside the van. Besides the shock of it all everyone was fine and we hitched as a group onto a passing bus which took us to the nearest town where the tourism company sent another van so we could continue the trip, only about 2 1/2 hours behind schedule. We really are so lucky.

The mountains at the tip of the Andes in Torres del Paine, shrouded in clouds.

Bits of neon blue ice floating away from the Lake Grey glacier.



Mike hugging a big friendly Milodon, aka a giant sloth whose remains were found in the that cave.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Punta Arenas and the End of the World

Not in the apocalyptic sense, mind you. In the we`re a really, really long way south sense. We decided to head to the Strait of Magellan to see some penguins, and some beautiful scenery. The first step came in the form of Sono Otway Penguin colony, an hour`s trip away from Punta Arenas.

When I think of penguins, I think of the Antarctic ones, which live on the ice, and have sweet ice slides into the water. It was a bit strange to see them in this environment, with no snow to be seen. Cold to be sure, but no snow. Also very interesting to know that they burrow... penguins have burrows? Yes, penguins have burrows.. who knew? They are just as cute and clumsy out of the water as I expected, however.

There were several hundred of them in this colony, which is made up of penguins from the falkland Islands and the southern coast of Brazil. So that means that the little guys come a heck of a long way to get here. They are out in the water hunting for up to 15 hours a day. They`ve got to feed their offspring, who are quickly the same size as their parents.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Easter Island

Couldn`t resist... really now, Easter Island was never going to get any closer than Santiago, so away we went. I regret nothing. Even the expensive flight on LAN Chile (the only airline that flies to Easter Island) was fun. It was on a Boeing 767, loaded with on demand media... screens for every seat, with remote controls where we could choose from several movies, tv shows, CDs and video games. I was impressed.

We could see some of the statues from the plane upon arrival, which was pretty cool. I was a little worried about how much hotels would cost, but they ended up being about the same as in Santiago, and included transportation to and from the airport. The statue I am emulating here is about 3 minutes walk from the hotel.

There were a few showers the first night, but the sunset was nice, and lots of tourists collected in front of the moais (statues) trying to get the perfect silhouette.

The next day we took a stroll 20 kms up to the top of Rano Kau, which is a volcanic crater where the Rapa Nui cult of the birdman would hold it`s yearly competition to see who could swim out to some little islands and retrieve an egg and become the birdman for the year. Spectacular views.

The day after that was a complete write off. Easily more rain in one day than the prairies see in a year. We would see rain like that in Brazil, but only for a short period, not all day. Luckily we planned enough time to let that day go. The following day we took a rather expensive, but worthwile tour with an Aussie named Bill Howe. He made a good tour guide, and in good aussie fashion pulled no punches. The tour went to some noteworthy Ahu (where the moais are erected), then to Rano Raraku, the volcano where the moai are sculpted, and easily the highlight of the trip. The slopes are littered with completed, partially completed, and broken moai from 2 to 12 metres in height.

The moais at Rano Raraku are not quite finished as they have no eye sockets. These were left until the end when they were erected on the Ahu. Each moai represents a tribal chief, and when the cheif dies his spirit is transfered into the moai through the eye sockets. Eyes made of white coral were used, and the spirit could not enter, or once inside, exit without the eyes in place. A few years ago some moai were restored with eyes and all, but the islanders made them take the eyes out, as they were scared of exiting spirits. The islanders are all descendants of the short ears, who wiped out the ruling class long ears, who erected the moai.... so they figure any long ear spirits exiting the moai might be mad...

The moai were also erected with large red topknots called pukao, which could weigh several tons by themselves and were carved on the other side of the island. There are many theories about how they moved these statues, but no one knows for sure. What can be seen is that it wasn`t a foolproof system, and many moai broke in transit to their ahu.

We had a really sweet 5 days, and now are in Santiago, preparing to head to Punta Arenas and the end of the world tomorrow at 10am!

mike and Leanna